by Frank Barone
In my evaluation of the coming Jets season and our prospects for winning a title, I reluctantly find myself questioning how Curtis Martin fits in. I am forced to ask myself the question, Has the Jet organization gone one year too many in counting on him to be the feature running back for the New York Jets?
Curtis will be a guaranteed Hall of Famer when he retires, but his playing time has generated quite a few heated discussions among us Jet fans over the past couple of years. Yes, he led the league in rushing last season, and yes, he was absolutely dynamic on some of his weaving jaunts down the field, but every time he was tackled, and every time he was at the bottom of a pile, you were forced to wonder, How much can he take?
Curtis actually did not play any high school football until his Senior year, when he made All-State, and ended up rushing for 1,705 yards. He lettered for three years in college at Pittsburgh and, in the second game of his senior season there, suffered a season-ending ankle injury. He entered the NFL Dradt anyway, leaving a year of eligibility behind, falling all the way to Parcells in the third round–as a slow, efficient runner with a frightening injury history.
Of course, the rest is history.
Through his first ten years in the NFL, the last seven with the Jets, he has rushed a total of 3,298 times for 13,366 yards from scrimmage. His average yards per carry over that ten-year span is 4.1 , with a high of 4.6 in 2004, compared to a low of 3.5 in 1998. He has been tough, durable, at times–heroic. He doesn’t fumble, losing only 14 fumbles out of those 3,298 carries. That statistic should be a benchmark for every running back that enters the NFL to strive for. Turnovers lose games and change momemtum in games plain and simple–Curtis carrying the ball throughout his career has given his team everything they could want to win games, and absolutely nothing that would lose games.
One unflattering statistic in reviewing his past was the plus twenty-yard runs in his career. There have been 67 total in his career, a mere two per cent of his total carries. His first year in the league was actually, with 11, his best individual year in this category. He’s not going to break one for you, at least not the way he used to do to us when he was with the Patriots, streaking downfield with Victor Green on his heels. He’s not Dickerson. He’s Curtis Martin.
As he enters his eleventh season, and at age 32, nothing I say here is meant to detract or minimize his achievements and contributions to the New York Jets. I have his number 28 jersey as part of my Jet collection as a reflection of the admiration I have for him.
Unfortunately loyalty and respect for past accomplishments, as noble as they might be, are not part of the necessary ingredients for the 2005 New York Jets to win a world championship. Our organization is counting on a 32 year-old running back, entering his eleventh season, to stay healthy and perform at like an All-Pro again. As evidenced throughout his career Curtis gains majority of his yardage in smaller chunks, maximizing the possibility of hits and contact with opponents. The potential for injury on a 32 year old body goes up exponentially over a younger, more explosive runner.
Lamont Jordan, that younger, more explosive runner, is gone. We caught only glimpses of what Lamont could do, his powerful, freakish forays around the right end, stiff-arming opponents to the ground, going 35 yards, 50 yards for touchdowns. Curtis Martin, for all his glory, can’t go 50 yards on a play anymore. Curtis Martin, for all his glory, will go five, six, maybe ten yards on a run, usually being dragged down from behind by a linebacker, by a defensive end. He is a Volvo. Lamont Jordan, at times, looked like a double-axle Ferrari.
Now, it’s Curtis Martin and nobody else. Bradway signed Derrick Blaylock away from Kansas City in the off-season. Blaylock, the back-up for Priest Holmes, is dynamic, but in a scat-back kind of way. If Curtis’s ankles give out on him finally, or his knees finally give out, it’s Blaylock’s show–Super Bowl or bust. Can Blaylock get 25-30 carries a game? He hasn’t proven it to us. Lamont did. Bradway is playing high-stakes poker with an old running back, and, by letting Jordan walk, is acting like he’s using house money.
This is one Jet fan that hopes that we will not be waiting yet another year (35 and counting for myself) because of the decision to rely on Curtis to help take us to the goal of a Super Bowl championship in 2005. I can’t help but wonder, are we going to the well too many times with Curtis? Of course, as Jets fans, we’ve been asking ourselves that question about Curtis for the last three years. Here’s hoping.